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Some California Public Benefits Move to New System

The MyBenefits CalWIN site has begun redirecting users to a brand-new online portal,, where they will create new accounts and link to the personal information already in their files.

(TNS) — If you get help from Sacramento County to pay for food, health care or housing — and almost half of all residents receive some kind of public assistance — you likely have visited MyBenefits CalWIN to apply for, renew or manage your benefits.

Well, that access point changes this week.

On Monday, the MyBenefits CalWIN site,, began redirecting thousands of users to a brand new online portal,, where they will be directed to create new accounts and link to the personal information already in their files.

“We do have a large percentage of our customers who utilize our online services with our current system,” said Roselee Ramirez, manager of the human services division in the county’s Department of Human Assistance.

Ramirez said the team has been meeting with community-based organizations and advocates to encourage users to create new accounts.

“We want to make sure all our customers are aware of that, so we can help them with getting up on the new online system,” Ramirez said.

BenefitsCal has gone through several years of testing and includes updates that take advantage of 21st century technology, like using cell phones to scan and upload documents, said consumer advocate David Kane of the Western Center on Law & Poverty.

While the new system still has some drawbacks, he said, it also makes significant advances that will be useful to Sacramentans — and indeed all Californians — who need help.

California counties had been using three different systems to manage taxpayer-funded financial, Ramirez said, but a federal mandate required the state to have a single eligibility and benefits management system in place by the end of this year.

Residents will use the system to access food aid from CalFresh; cash assistance from California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids, or CalWORKS; health care coverage through Medi-Cal; and other programs to help meet basic needs.

While users will know the system as BenefitsCal, Ramirez and other administrators call it the California Statewide Automated Welfare System, CalSAWS for short.

California joint powers authority makes decisions on new system

All 58 California counties formed a joint powers authority to develop the system, and next week, the last wave of counties — Sacramento, San Francisco and San Luis Obispo — will migrate to CalSAWS.

While the system will continue to undergo updates and add capabilities, Ramirez said, one of the benefits of being among the last to roll out the new system is that many kinks and glitches already have been worked out.

With one system, both users and administrators will waste a lot less time, said Christiana Smith, the director of information technology policy for the County Welfare Directors Association of California. Because all the counties integrated to one system, all customers will have their information in the database, and it will be simpler to figure out eligibility if customers relocate from one county to another.

“Every county in California administers these programs, and it’s common that folks may move around the state,” Smith said.

“It will be a single system … in terms of our front-end, self-service portal, BenefitsCal. It just streamlines the administration. It reduces the number of systems that we are needing to maintain and update over time.”

At Sacramento County, some welfare workers also have used different ancillary systems to support various aspects of their work, Ramirez said, but many of those tasks can now be done through CalSAWS.

While there were key improvements made, Kane said, not everything is easier. The benefits and drawbacks include:

▪ Allows Californians to sign up for accounts with mobile phone numbers, as Covered California does.

▪ Customers can read information in the language of their choice, but they cannot provide answers in that language.

▪ If it’s time for users to complete their annual renewal form, it should be available when they set up a BenefitsCal account. Right now, people are waiting between an hour and several days.

▪ The ability to scan and upload pay stubs, renewal forms and other documents is immensely helpful, but users say they are often having to repeat the upload process because county officials can’t find their paperwork.

▪ Remove questions on some forms that are unnecessary, confusing or stigmatizing. For instance, if you say you are not a U.S. citizen, one form asks when you entered the country.

▪ With the new system, advocates at community-based organizations can no longer access key pieces of information needed to assist clients with getting signed up for government programs and maintaining access.

Smith and Ramirez said that CalSAWS and BenefitsCal are built to ensure that customer information remains secure and private, as required by state and federal regulations. Welfare directors recognize that community-based organizations are key partners in connecting thousands of Californians to much-needed benefits.

Advocates at those organizations have different access rights than customers when it comes to viewing information, Ramirez and Smith said in a joint statement with CalSAWS. While community advocates can see the status of an application, for example, they cannot see the customer’s eligibility determination.

“We know that advocates and community-based organizations would like to access additional customer details, and CalSAWS, BenefitsCal, counties and CWDA continue to be engaged in ongoing discussions with them, along with our state partners, around future changes to support additional access where allowed by policy,” they said in the joint statement.

Certainly, there have been challenges in bringing a new system online, Smith and Ramirez said. It’s true that when a customer establishes a new online account and their case is first linked to the account, their Medi-Cal renewal form isn’t immediately available. Initially, it took a business day before the form appeared, they said, but now if the account is set up and linked within business hours, the forms appear within an hour.

Accounts that are linked outside of these hours should generally have access to their form by the following business day, unless there is a system outage, they said. There were some outages last weekend data was migrating over to the CalSAWS system.

Kane said that, while these times may have improved for some applicants, he and other advocates are still hearing complaints from people waiting days to get renewal forms. There should be no wait, he said.

BenefitsCal is in the process of seeking customer feedback on modifications to the in-line help, Smith and Ramirez said, to better inform customers of when they can expect their renewals to be available after they have linked their account.

For faster service, identify documents being uploaded

In the case of document uploads, Smith and Ramirez said, it’s important that customers properly identify the document they are sending to the county. If a document is misidentified or unidentified, it could make it difficult for workers to find it, they said, and that could lead to delays in processing.

“Documents not linked to a renewal or application will still be assigned as tasks for county staff to complete,” Ramirez and Smith said. “However, these documents might not appear during a targeted search of a specific document type.”

The BenefitsCal team will make future updates to their system to help assist customers with selecting the correct document type, they said.

While people can choose to connect with BenefitsCal in one of 20 different languages, Smith said, they will not be able to write in a number of those languages because the characters may not be recognizable in state and federal systems where BenefitsCal data must be shared. Fortunately, she said, there are not a lot of places on any documents that require free-form text.

All questions on the forms come from the state documents, they said, including the one asking for a date of entry into the United States. That question, though, is optional.

Since, the question is optional, Kane said, they should be able to remove it. BenefitsCal needs a number of improvements, he said, but it does offer new tools that should keep many people from having to wait hours on the phone for help or having to make trips to county offices to get assistance.

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